Yesterday, one of my many Facebook friends posted a story alleging that the actor Leonardo DiCaprio was traveling on Interstate 5 near Albany when his rental car broke down. DiCaprio, according to the story, was really impressed when local residents, who did not recognize him, came to his aid and even bought him a meal at a local restaurant. He was quoted as planning to retire in Albany because the people here were so generous.
The story was a hoax, but the idea that people here would help someone in need was completely believable. I suspected the story wasn’t true when I read it; so I took a moment to verify my suspicions by checking other sources. The irony of this immature joke is that by attempting to fool people, the perpetrator reminded me that literally billions of acts of kindness go unreported every day. We occasionally read about them in the news when they involve a celebrity or extraordinary heroism, like the Portland men who recently came to the rescue of two young Muslim women. The reality, however, is there is not enough time or space in the world’s media to report all the good things or selfless acts that happen every day. I think we have the responsibility to remind ourselves that the death and destruction we read about or see in the media every day are the exception to normal human behavior and far from the rule.
Trust makes communities work; a fact that becomes really obvious when trust is absent. This morning I listened to an account on the radio of how the once thriving city of Aleppo, Syria, has been transformed into a ghost town by unremitting conflict over the past five years. The story reminded me of my own experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, where human relations were equally troubled. Even in the worst of circumstances, in spots like Aleppo, Karbala or Kabul, human kindness is still evident. People risk their lives to save others, give money to those in need, or otherwise sacrifice to help people they may not even know. These acts are the seeds of trust that will eventually make these devastated communities more like the great majority of cities around the world.
I doubt Leonardo DiCaprio has ever heard of Albany, Oregon, and I’m reasonably sure he will not retire here. Nonetheless, he did us a small service without his knowledge by having his name linked to a fable that reminds us of the importance of being kind. I don’t know what the authors of the fable had in mind, but I appreciate the irony that a dishonest and cynical effort inspired me to think about what’s best in human nature.